From my earliest memory, I knew I was a writer. That in itself is a gift, right? Knowing your purpose in life? Many people go their whole lives questioning that. But THING NUMBER ONE on the list of THINGS I AM SURE OF has always been: God put me here to write books.

Many of you will understand that when you say you’re a Christian, you’re saying Jesus is Lord of your life. All of it. You’ve agreed to go where Jesus leads, wherever that is. I have been a Christian since fifth grade, and I understood that that was what I’d signed up for, but the truth is, in my head and most especially in early adulthood that understanding was pretty much in theory only. In regards to writing, I had my own plans. I wanted to write the books I wanted to write, and I planned to gladly tithe ten percent of whatever fortunes I was quite sure I would make in my fabulous, destined writing career. That should fully satisfy whatever obligation I was under.

Let’s stop and take a moment to appreciate my confidence and hubris. Isn’t it adorable?

Anyway, early on I decided I was going to write romance novels. For one thing, at that time romance novels had the biggest share of the publishing market (maybe they still do; I don’t pay that much attention to publishing markets these days) for another, I was quite confident I could build a career in romance novels, starting from category books like Harlequin and working my way into hardcovers like Danielle Steele.

So cute, all these certainties!

What followed were years of writing book after book that ultimately landed in a box under the bed. I had a few small successes, but many more disappointments. Everyone knows the writing game is one of perseverance, though, and I was determined. I kept writing.

As the years went on, I began to feel God calling me to give over control of my career, such as it was, to Him. I didn’t want that. I had my plan. I had my eyes on the prize. I did not trust God to allow me to exercise my full creativity. He would probably want me to write tame, boring stories where everyone was basically perfect except for some minor misunderstandings, and then they all prayed. Either that, or I’d have to write something gritty like The Cross and the Switchblade, and I simply have never had the street cred to pull something like that off. So I resisted and kept writing what I wanted to write. When I felt that nudging in my spirit to turn that control over to God, I put my spiritual hands over my spiritual ears and hummed the Star Spangled Banner as loud as I silently could.

For THREE YEARS. Seriously. Given the fact that I was writing romance novels, it’s important to me that I make one thing clear: I never felt convicted in the sense that what I was writing was “wrong”. I know the perception some people have about romance novels. But when I say I felt this nudging from the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t in a kind of THOU SHALT NOT WRITE THIS SMUT kind of way. It was more of an “I have something else for you. Trust me.”

Two takeaways on this: a) something doesn’t have to be “wrong,” per se, in order for it to be wrong for you, and b) I wasn’t trusting God. At all.

And to be honest, this entire ordeal was exhausting.

During this time I “found my voice,” as we say in the biz, writing humor. I wrote a romantic comedy that I was quite sure was going to catapult me out of the trenches and into a solid career. Everyone in my critique group loved it. Agents and publishers were sure to love it, too. While I shopped it around to agents and entered it into every contest I could afford, I wrote another one. Maybe later, I thought, I would follow God’s lead. Not now, when I was finally heading in the right direction.

That voice in my spirit kept nudging, gently but persistently. I kept ignoring it. I was so close now! No way I was going to start over. I won every contest I entered that romantic comedy manuscript in. These contests are often judged by agents or editors, and I was quite sure that one of them would see the genius of my entry and sign me to a big, fat contract.

Here’s what I got, over and over: We love this entry! The humor is engaging, the dialogue sparkles, the plot is on point. We wish this author the best of luck in the future! Which was nice, of course. But I was looking for a big fat contract, not a compliment.

So I began submitting to agents. Here’s the feedback I got from agents: We love this submission! The humor is engaging, the dialogue sparkles, the plot is on point. It’s difficult to explain why sometimes a good book is not a fit for an agency, but unfortunately, that is the case with this book. We wish this author the best of luck!

When the last submission to an agent came back with this rejection, I was furious. I knew how to explain it: God was placing his hand over that book and refusing to let me go forward.

I was so enraged, and it felt so unfair, that I could think of nothing else. I couldn’t pray. When I sat down to write it felt completely futile. God was not going to allow me to succeed on my own terms. This went on for several days, with me so mad I could spit.  I was looking at the death of the dream I had worked so hard for.

Have you ever been furious for three or four days? Like, solid, blinding fury? Again, it’s exhausting. Toward that last day of fury, that divine hand I was so sure was holding me back? I sensed it was preparing to lift, to let me go my own way.

That brought me up short. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. It was like a parent saying, “Fine. You want to play in the street? Go play in the street.” (BTW, my dad actually did say that to me one time. I was helping him fix the air conditioner. I was four, I think.) I asked myself, “So, what if you do make the big contract? Then you’re going to give it all up and follow this calling, if that’s what it is? Honestly?”

Anyway. This all took place in September and October, and we just happened to have a particularly beautiful Fall that year. I remember taking my kids to Parents Day Out at my church, which was surrounded by oak trees in all their blazing Autumn glory. For the first time in many days, I felt my spirits lifting. Then I drove to the library where I planned to spend the day writing–my favorite kind of day. The sky was a breathtaking clear blue. I parked at the library and looked at the sky, and everything in my wanted to praise God’s creation. Which I started to do, then stopped.

“Oh, wait,” I thought. “I’m not speaking to you.”

And I knew in that moment that I could not live like this for the rest of my life. I could not be apart from God. I could not. If what it took for me to stay in relationship with God was to turn over my hopes and dreams for my career to Him, then that’s what I would have to do. So I did. There in my car in the library parking lot. Not in a joyous way, but in a broken, defeated way. Sobbing.  I’m sure I made the other patrons nervous. Still, I did it.

It so happened that that weekend I was also scheduled to attend a women’s retreat with my church. I was tender and sensitive from the recent events, and I prayed on the entire drive to the retreat: I need a Word, God. I need a Word.

I got it during during the first half hour of the retreat. The leader gave each of us a different verse on a folded strip of paper, and we were to read the verse then go off on the grounds somewhere, alone, open the paper, and meditate on the verse.

I didn’t wait until I got alone. I opened the paper–here is the verse she gave to me:

Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.

As I stood in the retreat room and stared at that little slip of paper, that word, daughter, rose off the page and grew huge in my eyes.

I somehow found my spot on the grounds, and I sat in the grass, stunned. I felt more clearly than I ever have that God was with me, RIGHT THERE, that His hand was on me and that, whatever happened, everything was going to be fine. Was going to be perfect, in fact. I sobbed again and cemented with joy and anticipation the decision that I’d made, grudgingly, a few days prior. I had been broken open, but God filled that brokenness with light.

I knew when we met up again in the retreat center, the leader was going to ask us to share. I’d felt something seismic, and I wanted to share, but I was afraid I would cry and not be able to get it out. So I bargained with God: If you’ll make it so that I don’t cry, I’ll share this story.

I went back into the retreat room with the other women, began to recite my verse, and burst into tears. So much for that bargain.

So anyway…this is part one of the story of how the Trailer Park Princess was born, in all her messy, hilarious, holiness-seeking glory. As it turns out, there were several more years between this day and the completion of the first Trailer Park Princess book, and those years were filled with frustration, many more questions, and a whole load of self-doubt, so I’m going to save that story for another day. I still struggle with hearing from God and worrying that I’m not quite on the correct path. For years, in fact, I questioned the validity of that entire experience. Was that a real “calling” or just my imagination?

Here’s my main takeaway from this period, though: whether God called me or not, I answered. I made that commitment. I gave Him control. And my new certainty is, I do not want it back. 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Eventually, I’ll get to part two of this story. For now…back to writing books!